Everyone has a hero or two or three. For you, it might be Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator. For others, it might be Caterina Sforza, George Washington Carver, or John Lennon. For myself, I’ve always had a soft spot for Mike Haggar.
“Who the hell is Mike Haggar?” is what I’m imagining the vast majority are saying upon reading that, and possibly “Why would he be so worthy of praise?” if they were prone to speaking aloud any thought that passed through their head.
Well to me, as I’m sure is the case with others, a personal hero is someone who inspires you by exemplifying the traits you find admirable in humanity. Unfortunately, I often find that the nature of politics is ill suited for nobility and perseverance. Even those who accomplish great things turn out to have plenty of dark secrets, human foibles or just plain bad habits that make it hard to not get too cynical about them.
If you dig deeper, you’ll find that Gandhi probably beat his wife, Martin Luther King Jr. swore worse than a sailor and might have stolen some of his best lines from other speeches, and Lincoln was often depressed if not possibly living a double life. In the grand scheme of things, they’re still noble men, but men all the same and so fallible.
Thus, as a child growing up in the birth of the digital generation it was easy for me to latch onto heroes that would only exist in bits and bytes that could be controlled only via an arcade stick or mouse and keyboard. There were plenty to choose from: Mario, Sonic, Guybrush Threepwood, Mega Man. All of these characters were favorites and loved for a time, but as the years went by, most passed into the territory of “remembered fondly”.
But then there’s Mike Haggar. While in most ways, he’s just a beefcake sporting a Freddy Mercury mustache who beats up thugs, because he is, he also represents something a little more admirable. In the context of 1989’s Final Fight, Mike Haggar is the mayor of the beleaguered Metro City, a town in turmoil where crime (in the form of the street gang Mad Gear) has taken hold so thoroughly that police will forgo subtlety and attack public officials openly, and I don’t mean with fiery rhetoric, but actually assaulting them in order to keep the city in its stranglehold. Haggar, a former wrestler, ran for office on a platform of cleaning up his once fair berg. Mad Gear attempts to deal with this new public servant the same as the others — with bribes — but when that doesn’t work they resort to kidnapping his daughter to use as leverage and maintain control.
As it turns out, Mike Haggar is not only incorruptible, he’s also just a badass, since his reaction to these threats to both his integrity and family is to call a couple of his tougher friends to his side, hulk out and start delivering beatings to everyone standing in his way. While his platform may have ridden entirely on a similar premise, I doubt he thought he would actually be delivering reform in such a “personal” sense. Still, when push comes to shove, he rolls up his sleeves or in his case, rips off his shirt and just does it. Talk about a politician to admire!
Though of course this is just a simple plot to get a game about street brawling going, it always stuck with me. Why can’t all politicians be this tough? This unyielding when pressed, or as noble? He even seems to be well suited for public office, as he remains Mayor in subsequent games, continuing a fight he starts with his fists with what I hope is legislation as strong as his bodybuilder physique. Sure it’s a juvenile ideal, more ingrained in the culture of martial arts than in actual politics, but at least for me it set a standard I have yet to see in reality, though of course that’s because it would be impossible.
Or at least, I used to think so. Then in 1999, a little-known, but eerily similar guy was elected as the governor of Minnesota. I’m talking of course about Jesse “The Body” Ventura. A former Naval Demolitions expert, wrestler and actor, Ventura entered into politics and from most accounts was a rather successful governor for the Reform party and the people of his state. Now I’m not going to get into his various controversies or policies, as a California native (rather than a Minnesotan) I really can’t say I’ve got a full picture, and I certainly think the man’s latest turn as professional conspiracy theorist is a bit disappointing, but damn if it isn’t an eerie act of life imitating art on at least a couple of levels.
It’s not the only such occurrence either, since I’m living in a state being run by one of Ventura’s old buddies, Arnold Schwarzenegger, another body builder/actor/action star who’s taken a turn in politics. Though governor “Ahnold” has certainly run into plenty of controversy and trouble during his stint as leader, perhaps we’ve been going about it all wrong. Maybe we should be using guys like him and Ventura like the protagonists of video games, air dropping them into crime ridden neighborhoods to deliver as many suplexes as speeches to lawbreakers. We could televise it and make a profit for our struggling economy, and should they go down in the fight for justice, at least their critics would be sated. If they’re successful, well hey, we have the footage to prove they’ve actually done something useful during their time in office!
Okay, it’s a silly thought, I know. Ventura and Schwarzenegger are only human, and thus prone to having many faults, so they could probably never live up to the example Mike Haggar had started in ’89. But his memory lives on, and only last week was it announced that the champion of Metro City would be returning to gaming in the upcoming crossover combat of Marvel VS. Capcom 3. Fans of larger than life politics are currently rejoicing.
But what does this all build up to? Well, in honor of Haggar’s grand return and past glory, I’m setting up a little blog here at the California Literary Review. It’s going to ostensibly be about videogames, but I want to focus a little bit more on the issues and debates that occur within the industry and the fandom. Since videogames aren’t necessarily the focus of the site, it’s also going to be a place to inform and educate, as well as space for we reviewers to debate in a standard “town hall” manner. My main goal is to look at all sides of the various issues, think about them rationally and reasonably, and then be unafraid to deliver a swift drop-kick of justice to those who require it.
Videogames are essentially about two things: rules and actions. You have to play by the rules set up within the game, and perform the actions allowed to get through them. The very real game of politics is similar: men and women struggling to succeed by their actions and words in a world filled with myriad rules both written and implied. I for one can’t see a better symbol for the merging of the two than Mike Haggar.
So welcome to the Metro City Reform Committee! I hope to see you soon, and encourage any and all comments and feedback you might have. Of course, if you’re just here to troll, look out. Our original leader and founder might just be wandering the streets looking to deliver you some “law and order” of his own before feasting on some of that fine Metro City trashcan turkey.
See you soon,
Adam Robert Thomas